Bud's Bows Out

Downtown barbecue joint suddenly shutters, but should anyone be surprised?

Downtown barbecue joint suddenly shutters; should anyone be surprised?

Bud's Pitmaster BBQ barbecue tray
Bud's barbecue left a lot to be desired. Photo by Eric Sandler

A restaurant closing is always sad news. It means employees lost their jobs and (presumably) investors lost their money. 

Still, some closings are more surprising than others. The news that Bud's Pitmaster BBQ, the barbecue restaurant in the George R. Brown Convention Center, will close its doors after service on Friday, October 26, probably won't surprise many people. 

Owner Theldon R. Branch III cited a downturn in business after Harvey as the reason for the restaurant's failure. “It is with great regret and a hard fight to recovery that Bud’s closes its doors,” said Branch in a statement. “We worked diligently with Houston First to attract more business, but we just couldn’t survive... Overall, Hurricane Harvey caused a financial strain that made the continuation of business untenable.”

While Harvey undoubtedly played a role, the restaurant seemed troubled even before it opened its doors. For example, Branch claimed this great-grandfather helped invent barbecue when he worked at the King Ranch, which ignores the complicated nature of African American, German, and Mexican traditions that all shaped the cuisine. In the run up to opening, the restaurant implied that a well-known photograph taken by the Farm Security Administration in 1939 had a connection to the restaurant (the Facebook post that depicted the image has been removed along with the rest of the restaurant's social media accounts). It did not.

A visit to the restaurant in June 2017 revealed other problems. Its brisket lacked the smoke and seasoning that has become the preferred style of Texas barbecue, and pulled pork proved to be inedible.

On a more positive note, the restaurant announced it would donate all of its leftover product to The Bread of Life, Inc. and Impacting Houston, Inc. in the hope of benefitting the less fortunate. Employees are being offered assistance to find new jobs.

As for the staff, a representative for Houston First tells CultureMap that the organization will begin soliciting proposals soon. While it will likely remain a restaurant, it could be devoted to some other retail venture.

Just don't expect it to stay empty for long. With The Rustic opening next week, the area around the Convention Center has never been hotter. Some savvy operator will see opportunity where Bud's failed.